Injured migrant workers face uncertain future after Balasore train accident
Most of the injured in the June 2 accident were migrant labourers from Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand
A week after the train tragedy at Bahanaga Bazar railway station of Odisha’s Balasore district that killed 288 passengers and injured over 1,200, Prakash Ram, a 22-year-old migrant labourer from Pathra village in Bihar’s Gopalganj district is grateful that he lives but fears for his livelihood as one of his legs have been amputated.
Ram, who has been working at a ceramic tile factory in Ongole city of Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh for the past two years, was on his way home on the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express when a few coaches of the Coromondel Express that had derailed at Bahanaga Bazar station hit the last two general coaches of his train.
The 22-year-old lost consciousness and later found himself in the Balasore district hospital the next day. As his condition turned serious, he was shifted to the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, where doctors early this week amputated his left leg below the knee.
At the surgery ward of the hospital, Ram is a broken man, unable to fathom what the future holds for him as nurses dress his leg. “I can’t think clearly what I am going to do next. I was the only earning member of my family. I had to leave Bihar as there is no way one can earn a livelihood there,” he said. “Now, with an amputated leg, what am I going to do?”
Like Ram, most of the injured in the June 2 accident were migrant labourers from Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand travelling in unreserved as well as sleeper coaches of the Chennai-bound Coromondel Express and the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express. With no livelihood options available, hundreds of people from these states hop into the Coromondel Express to work in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The journey is tortuous, as there is little space available for them to sit in the coaches as many of them travel for 30 hours sitting in the vestibules of the south-bound trains hoping for a better life.
Rezaul Bafadar, a 25-year-old mason from Murshidabad in West Bengal and working in Kollam of Kerala for the past 10 years, is a bit luckier than Ram, but the deep gashes he suffered in his right arm as well as a broken bone would put him out of work for at least a year. He was in one of the sleeper coaches of the Coromondel Express without a confirmed berth when he was flung around on the impact of the crash. When he was rescued, he was in coma and spent four days in an intensive care unit till he regained his senses.
“I had come home a week before the train accident for some domestic emergency and was rushing back to work. I am the only earning member of my family. The ₹2 lakh that the railways have given as compensation would not last long,” said Bafadar. So I have to go back to work, but I don’t know how long it would take me to lift even a trowel and hammer.”
Shristidhar Sabak, a 23-year-old mason from Bagnan in Purulia district of West Bengal working in Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, also suffered a fracture in his left foot as his sleeper coach in the Coromondel Express tossed around the air before hitting the ground. Sabak, an orphan, writhes in pain while trying to move his leg wired with stainless steel contraptions, but he is worried whether he can go back to work anytime soon.
“In Vijaywada, I got ₹500 a day. But if I don’t join duty, it would be difficult for my family to survive,” said Sabak.
In orthopaedics ward, Dipak Haldar from South 24 Pargana district of Bengal is bewildered over his 30-year-old Subroto Haldar passing our every now and then after he was rescued from the accident spot. Subroto worked in a factory in Kerala and is the only breadwinner in the family. “My elder son is mentally challenged. If Subroto does not recover, then our family is doomed,” said Haldar.
Umi Daniel, an expert on migrant labourers, said the train tragedy has brought back the focus on the vulnerabilities faced by migrant labourers of Odisha, Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam as they head to work in southern states.
“While workplace hazard is one major challenge, the death and devastation that they face while travelling is a big setback they none of the migrant labourers are prepared for. The compensation that the railways and the state government are giving would not be enough,” Daniel said. “Instead, the government, Indian Railways and the corporate sector should work together to map the specific needs of each of the migrant labourers who have been killed or wounded.”
In the surgery and orthopaedics wards of the SCB Medical College and Hospital, where most of the injured migrant labourers are being treated, Fulagan Kamat, a 45-year-old from Madhubani district of Bihar, said the steel rod inserted in his right thigh and the deep gash on his shoulder hurts him most of the time. Kamat has been working as a kitchen help in a Chennai hotel for the past six years and was going back to his workplace on the Coromondel Express.
“I am worried that I would not be able to work again in the hotel for next one year. With five daughters and a son at home, I need to be back on my feet,” Kamat said. “I can’t let a train accident deter me.”